900 300 Writer and the Wolf Editorial

What is genre?

Genre (noun): A particular style or category of works of art; esp. a type of literary work characterized by a particular form, style, or purpose. OED

When it comes to fiction, genre is the category or type of story being told, such as horror, fantasy or mystery. Labelling a book with a particular genre helps readers find the right book for them because it gives them clues about what sort of writing, plot and tone they can expect from your novel. Genres and sub-genres comes with certain expectations, conventions and tropes and although it’s great to play with those expectations, mix genres and put a fresh twist on familiar tropes, there are often distinctive characteristics and devices that a lot of readers want and actively look for in their favourite genre. The best way to get familiar with a genre or sub-genre is to read lots of it!

What do children’s authors need to know?

Category is king in middle grade and YA publishing! Genre-bending and blurred lines are less common in middle grade, partly because most younger readers aren’t yet familiar enough with the conventions of particular genres to fully appreciate or seek out mash ups or subverted tropes. Less confident or experienced readers can find it reassuring to recognise or predict some of the common devices or structures in books. That doesn’t mean you can’t break the rules or that no young readers want stories that flip genre conventions or blend categories; the upper YA space in particular tends to be more experimental as teens become more versed in the traditions and tropes of their favourite genres and are ready to branch out and find something fresh.

The other important thing to remember is that middle grade and young adult aren’t genres, they’re audiences. A book can be middle grade and horror, or YA and steampunk. Underneath the MG and YA umbrellas lie all the usual fiction genres, although some don’t crop up often in children’s book because they’re inappropriate or inaccessible for a young audience. Read more about this in The MONSTER guide to middle grade & YA genres and sub-genres.


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Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes is a developmental editor working with middle grade and YA authors. She specialises in speculative and genre fiction, particularly horror, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi and anything with a dash of magic or macabre. She is a member of the SfEP, EFA, ACES, British Fantasy Society, Horror Writers Association and SCBWI. She has an MA in Novel Writing and an MA in Children's Literature.

All stories by: Siobhan O'Brien Holmes